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Emerging Perspectives: Nicole Smith

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Nicole Smith speaks with Siminovitch Theatre Foundation Community Manager Sam Woods about her current projects. A director, playwright, and producer, Nicole Smith was selected by Berni Stapleton to receive an Emerging Artist Grant in 2023 thanks to funding from The Youssef-Warren Foundation

How did you and Berni become collaborators?

In 2018, I was participating in the Women’s Work Festival in St. John’s, working on a 2-hander, a show about an 80-year-old, and a 16-year-old – and Berni was cast as the 80-year-old. When I walked into the room and saw Berni, I thought “this won’t do”, because she was very clearly not 80 years old! But then she opened her mouth, and I thought…., “Oh, that’s really, really good.” I basically became obsessed with her. I thought she was the coolest human, I told her that, and just sort of glommed on to her. We became really fast friends. 

I had been holding onto this story about Cambridge, ON, where I’m from. I knew about a huge influx of women from Newfoundland who came to work in the Cambridge textile mill during World War II. They completely changed the cultural landscape of the city. Berni was interested and so we delved into the project together, and premiered it in 2022 at the Grand Falls Windsor Theatre Project festival; it’s called Girls From Away

What is your favourite piece of theatre you’ve created/been a part of?

Girls from Away, because of how beautiful the collaboration with Berni was and how much work went into it; to see it in its fully formed production from knowing it as a seed of an idea. It is a story that had a huge cultural and economic impact and the Newfoundland women at the helm of it were never given the credit. The story is almost entirely unknown.

Sam’s Note: Want to hear Berni speak about Girls From Away, too? Click here to check out Berni’s Backstage conversation with Kate Hennig for more! 

How did you learn about this story?

A woman named Valerie Spring from Cambridge, ON  wrote her thesis on it in the ’80s. She did interviews with the women who immigrated from Newfoundland in their kitchens, through genuine conversations. She had to fight with the University of Waterloo for the work to be considered a valid thesis. But because she did, because of her persistence, those women’s voices were recorded. I was pointed in the direction of Valerie’s thesis, brought it to Berni, and we created this play. It’s a layered legacy with longevity to it. 

Tell us what’s next for you!

Berni and I are actually cooking up a new collaboration that we’re calling Taste. It’s what we’re calling a “moveable feast”. The idea is to go around Newfoundland and chat with different groups of people, different pockets of people, cook with them, learn recipes and and really delve into how stories are so entwined with what we consume and what we share. We’re just diving into the process of it first, but don’t know yet what the product will be – we’re gonna see what we can make out of it once we have all of our material. Maybe it’ll be like a live cookbook, where we start in one area of the province and work our way down, and it culminates in some kind of potluck of story and food. We don’t know yet, but it’s exciting!


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